Saturday, December 23, 2006

The redacted Iran op-ed revealed

The New York Times has taken the unusual step of publishing an op-ed in which parts of the contents have been "redacted" or blacked out by government censors, who believe that its contents would reveal "sensitive" information that the White House wants to withold. Below is RAW STORY's best informed guess at what might hide behind the redactions.

In addition to the redacted op-ed, the Times published an explanatory note from its authors, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann. Leverett served in the Bush National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice, and is now affiliated with the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution. Hillary Mann is an ex-foreign service officer who participated in US dialogue with Iran from 2001 to 2003.

Leverett and Mann made available a set of publicly-available sources of information which they had " the board to demonstrate that all of the material the White House objected to is already in the public domain." However, as they noted, "to make sense of much of our Op-Ed article, readers will have to read the citations for themselves."

RAW STORY has examined these sources and has attempted to connect the previously published materials to the redacted paragraphs in the op-ed. What the information reveals is a series of events in which US-Iran dialogue broke down. In the aftermath of 9/11, the cooperative spirit around the world sparked by America's victimhood encouraged Iran to collaborate with the United States in its effort to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the goodwill that might have been sustained by those early negotiations was undermined by a series of disputes between the US and Iran.

The matters that particularly undermined US-Iran dialogue involved the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq(MEK) -- an anti-Tehran militia that had been given safe harbor by Saddam Hussein in Iraq and had surrendered to the US -- as well as US allegations that Iran was giving safe haven to al Qaeda terrorists who had fled Afghanistan.

As the disputes over these issues deepened, and worries about Iran's nuclear ambitions spread, the conflict between the two states became more intractable. Leverett and Mann warn in their op-ed that negotiations between the two states on improving Iraq's stability will suffer as a consequence of this history of tumult. They write that "issue-specific engagement with Iran is bound to fail," because "resolving any of the significant bilateral differences between the United States and Iran inevitably requires resolving all of them."

The explanation will proceed redaction by redaction and include materials from the sources provided by the authors of the op-ed which RAW STORY believes might shed light on the removed portions of the article.

Leverett and Mann write:

But Tehran was profoundly disappointed with the United States response. After the 9/11 attacks, xxx xxx xx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xx set the stage for a November 2001 meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and the foreign ministers of Afghanistan's six neighbors and Russia. xxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx Iran went along, working with the United States to eliminate the Taliban and establish a post-Taliban political order in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Powell in a press briefing en route to Moscow, December 9, 2001:

On Iran, setting aside pipelines. I am open to explore opportunities. We have been in discussions with the Iranians on a variety of levels and in some new ways since September 11. Jim Dobbins spoke with Iranians in Bonn as we put together the new interim administration in Afghanistan, and I had a brief handshake and discussion with the Iranian Prime Minister in the UN."

Flynt Leverett in an earlier New York Times op-ed on January 24, 2006:

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan.

James Dobbins in a May 6, 2004 Washington Post editorial:

Two weeks after the fall of Kabul, all the major elements of the Afghan opposition came together at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Bonn. The objective was to create a broadly based successor government to the Taliban. As the U.S. representative at that gathering, I worked both with the Afghan delegations and with the other national representatives who had the greatest influence among them, which is to say the Iranian, Russian and Indian envoys. All these delegations proved helpful. None was more so than the Iranians. On two occasions Iranian representatives made particularly memorable contributions. The original version of the Bonn agreement, drafted by the United Nations and amended by the Afghans who were present, neglected to mention either democracy or the war on terrorism. It was the Iranian representative who spotted these omissions and successfully urged that the newly emerging Afghan government be required to commit to both.

Next, Leverett and Mann write:

In December 2001, xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx x Tehran to keep Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the brutal pro-Al Qaeda warlord, from returning to Afghanistan to lead jihadist resistance there. xxxxx xxxxxxx so long as the Bush administration did not criticize it for harboring terrorists. But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the "axis of evil." Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech. xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx the Islamic Republic could not be seen to be harboring terrorists.

From a February 2002 Time Magazine article by Tony Karon and Azadeh Moaeveni:

Not surprisingly, the U.S. wants Iran to end Hekmatyar's activities. And Iran's reformist elected government appears inclined to comply. They shut down his offices two weeks ago and the country's top foreign policy body, the Supreme National Security Council, voted last week to expel Hekmatyar from Iran. But Iranian media reports suggested the delay in implementing that decision resulted from urgent appeals from Washington and Kabul to hold off on expelling him. The Iranian daily Qods recently quoted an official source saying that "Karzai has asked Tehran to keep Hekmatyar in Iran so that Kabul is always informed about his whereabouts and activities." One possible reason for requesting the delay: Following the closure of his offices, Hekmatyar warned that he would return to Afghanistan if forced to leave Iran. According to a spokesperson, the State Department hasn't sent any direct messages to Tehran about Hekmatyar. But Washington's preference is clear: "We're not looking for him to go back to Afghanistan," says the spokesperson. Iran would have liked him gone sooner, but according to Foreign Minister Kharrazi: "The reason Hekmatyar is still in Iran is because our friends and those outside the region have requested it, but he is free to leave the country."

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